It is another addition to the increasingly competitive smart heating sector that is headlined by the likes of Nest (now owned by Google), Tado and British Gas. Honeywell is an industry giant, having been founded way back in 1906 and after white labelling several smart thermostats for others it is stepping into the limelight more itself. The company claims Evohome is the most comprehensive solution to date and, given it is also the most expensive, our expectations are high.
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The reason Evohome is the most expensive smart heating service is by design. Prices do start from just £250 but this is without installation (typically £100). Evohome also works using zones and each zone requires a sensor (‘TRV’) that will set you back £59 plus there’s an optional hot water controller (£70).
In the two bedroom flat where we tested, a combi boiler meant no hot water control was needed, but we still had five TRVs (kitchen, living room, hallway, both bedrooms). You can add zones over time, but a complete system still costs north of £650.
The good news is both the TRVs and its dedicated controller look the part. The TRVs replace the temperature control on your radiators (assuming you even have these) and clearly display the local temperature, their battery life (more later), sync status and a minimalist twist dial lets you manually adjust the temperature of the radiator to which they are connected. Build quality is rock solid.
The controller is similarly swish. In fact it is the first smart thermostat control unit we’ve seen to use both a touchscreen and colour panel. This combo gives the controller real gravitas and does away with the need for buttons altogether. A nice touch is the controller has swappable front covers and with white, black and silver available there should be something to suit most decors.
But there is a downside. The third part of the combo is the Remote Access Gateway which connects to your router and wirelessly communicates with the controller. Compared to the controller and TRV is it an ugly white brick and as large as some routers we have reviewed. Unlike the Tado system it cannot take its power from a USB port on the router either so it must be plugged into a wall socket. Honeywell said this is part of its system it is looking to refine so hopefully there will be changes before long.
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What intrigues about the Evohome, however, is how the controller, Remote Access Gateway and TRVs all come together.
For starters Honeywell doesn’t rate the sensor system used by Tado and Nest. These systems detect when users are in the home and turn the heating up or down automatically. Honeywell points out that continually dropping and reheating a home is more expensive than keeping it at a constant temperature. There is also a problem if you don’t have a compatible device (currently Windows Phone and BlackBerry aren’t supported by either company) as you aren’t recognised as being in the home.
Instead Honeywell argues the best heat savings come from efficiently managing the temperatures of the areas of the home you use when you need them. For example: cutting just the bedroom temperatures in the day if you work from home, the whole house while you are away or the kitchen while you cook. Evohome is about adapting to your lifestyle rather than switching the heating for the whole house up or down.
There is a downside to this. While Nest and Tado systems detect occupants and therefore react automatically, the Evohome has to be manually programmed. The upside of this is it can be incredibly granular (hour-by-hour, day-by-day) but that is also the downside and it takes some time to setup and you will find yourself fine tuning the settings for the first few weeks.
The good news is Evohome includes ‘Quick Actions’ such as ‘Economy’, ‘Away’, ‘Day Off’ and ‘Heating Off’ and these can be applied via the controller or the Android and iPhone apps remotely should you forget to change the system before, for example, going on holiday.
The belligerent can ignore this, but having seen the install (which takes about an hour) we can’t argue with Honeywell’s logic. The good news for those building their own systems is fitting a TRV simply involves unscrewing an existing radiator thermostat, screwing in the TRV and syncing is just a button press. This means expanding the system can be done easily and will allow users to spread the cost over time.
So how does it all come together? As you might expect, at first the going is slow but the experience then improves rapidly.
The reason for this is down to the user. Quite simply it is hard work trying to break down your heating schedule. What do you need on a Saturday at 11am versus 3pm? Can you turn the heating down from 7pm until 9pm on Tuesdays while you’re on a course or is that only every second Tuesday? The combinations are endless.
Consequently, we found you will adjust your basic schedule regularly before settling on one that works for you and your household. Since you tend to then leave the system alone it is also easy to forget to set quick actions like ‘Heating Off’ when you go away or to turn it back on when you come back. These things the Tado and Nest systems do better.
That said the Evohome is a far more powerful system than any of its rivals because of its sheer level of control. There is great satisfaction sitting in the living room in the evening at the ideal temperature while seeing that rest of house is off but knowing each room will be the right temperature when you need it. Then when you go to bed the bedroom is perfect and the rest of the house will cool – and so on.
With time this makes other systems and their heating on/off approach feel crude by comparison. Zoning is quite simply more efficient and, while we would need to test during winter for the best comparison, it was clear the boiler was switching on less often and for less time when it did. The mobile apps are also smart, stable and well designed, though note the screenshots come from our early access to a major update that adds scheduling and zone customisation and will be released to all shortly.
Grumbles? We do have some. Aside from the ugly and bulky Remote Access Gateway, the controller’s colour touchscreen is a resistive rather than capacitive panel like modern smartphones so it is occasionally slow to react. It also doesn’t have great battery life, lasting about an hour unplugged before low battery beeps begin and the battery indicator doesn’t always reflect this.
By contrast the TRVs last 2.5 years on their batteries (which are then easily swapped) but they do need to adjust their valves once per day to keep them loose and this fairly quiet and short noise (a few seconds) can catch you off guard occasionally.
The bigger question is more likely to be: are you prepared to pay the amount required for the Honeywell home? Logic would suggest the larger the home and the more TRVs required, the more likely that person is to be able to afford them but obviously that isn’t always the case. And for those with older central heating systems without temperature controlling valves already installed, the cost and hassle of upgrading is significant.
Personally, we’d like to see either a reduction in their price or a couple of TRVs bundled to get users up and running as supplying the controller and gateway without any makes the pricing deceptive.
Then again if you are prepared to invest in the Evohome it is without doubt the most comprehensive and accurate system we have seen and the system can be expanded slowly for those who can’t afford everything up front.
As for the savings, it will require a full calendar year to weigh up all the benefits, but there is no doubt that being able to control your temperature automatically room-by-room, day-by-day and hour-by-hour makes more sense than an everything on/off system. The bigger the home the more the upfront outlay, but also the faster you should see a return on your investment. Honeywell claims the Evohome will have paid for itself within 2.5 years and - your individual tariff aside - we see no reason to doubt that.
The Honeywell Evohome is the Rolls Royce of smart thermostats, but that metaphor applies to cost as well as performance. Small flats can expect to pay around £500 and bigger homes around £1,000, but if you can stomach that you are buying a far more advanced system than the on/off alternatives from the likes of Nest, Tado and Hive and it should recover its costs more quickly. The mass appeal of Nest in particular is unlikely to be dented by Honeywell, but Evohome owners will feel rightfully smug.
Next, read our Nest Protect Review